Dangerous Hurricane Dorian closes in on northern Bahamas, threatening to batter islands with 241kph winds
A dangerous Hurricane Dorian closed in on the northern Bahamas early on Sunday, threatening to batter islands with 150mph (241kph) winds, pounding waves and torrential rain as people hunkered down in schools, churches and other shelters.
Millions from Florida to the Carolinas kept a wary eye on Dorian, meanwhile, amid indications it would veer sharply north-eastward after passing the Bahamas and track up the US Southeast seaboard.
But authorities warned even if its core did not make US landfall and stayed offshore, the potent category four storm would likely hammer US coastal areas with powerful winds and heavy surf.
In the northern stretches of the Bahamas archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people from low-lying areas to bigger islands as Dorian approached.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that Dorian was a "dangerous storm" and said any "who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence".
Over two or three days, the slow-moving hurricane could dump as much as four feet (one metre) of rain, unleash devastating winds and whip up a dangerous storm surge, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue, seconding some of the most reliable computer models.
Government spokesman Kevin Harris said Dorian was expected to impact some 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes.
Authorities closed airports for The Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport at the capital of Nassau remained open.
Jeffrey Allen, who lives in Freeport on Grand Bahama, said he had learned after several storms that sometimes predictions of damage do not materialise, but he was still taking precautions.
"It's almost as if you wait with anticipation, hoping that it's never as bad as they say it will be. However, you prepare for the worst nonetheless," he said.
On average, the Bahamas archipelago gets a direct hit from a hurricane every four years, officials said.
Construction codes require homes to have metal reinforcements for roof beams to withstand winds into the upper limits of a category four hurricane, and compliance is generally tight for residents who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer communities, which typically have wooden homes and are generally in lower-lying areas.
Late on Saturday, Dorian was centred about 125 miles east of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 310 miles east of West Palm Beach in Florida as it crept westward at 8mph.
The slow-crawling storm was predicted to take until Monday afternoon to pass over the Bahamas, and then turn sharply and skirt up the US coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents along that state's densely populated Atlantic coast: "We're not out of the woods yet." He noted some forecast models still bring Dorian close to or even onto the Florida peninsula.
"That could produce life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds," he said. "That cone of uncertainty still includes a lot of areas on the east coast of Florida and even into central and north Florida, so we are staying prepared and remaining vigilant."
The hurricane upended some Labour Day holiday weekend plans in the US. Major airlines allowed travellers to change their reservations without fees, big cruise lines rerouted their ships and Cumberland Island National Seashore off Georgia closed to visitors.
Disney World and Orlando's other resorts held off announcing any closings.